Leading the Way in Specialty Coffee

By Richard Mineards   |   February 4, 2021
Coffee tsar Jay Ruskey and Montecito travel writer William Tomicki

Agronomist and farmer Jay Ruskey, co-founder of Frinj Coffee, situated on 42 acres at his family-owned and operated Good Land Organics Farm in Goleta, is trying to make the humble bean into a premium brand worthy of adjectives more associated with wine.

Carved out of a 120-acre property formerly owned by Alfred and Betsy Bloomingdale and now their son, Geoff, just a tiara’s toss or two from the Reagan Ranch, owned by the former president and his wife, Nancy, Ruskey first planted a trial crop 19 years ago and, as consumers have gained appreciation of the craft of coffee, the booming market has made room for rare and specialty coffees such as those grown in new and unique places, not just Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Panama, Brazil, and Indonesia.

As Ruskey found success in inter-planting his avocados with coffee, he realized the opportunity the coffee crop had to benefit California agriculture.

Frinj Coffee was incorporated four years ago, setting out to provide California farmers an opportunity to diversify their farm portfolios.

“Today, we support a growing number of farms on coastal Southern California,” he says. “Our science-forward services span from production to post-harvest to product marketing, ensuring excellence from the field to the cup.

“One of our greatest assets is our location. Although we sit 18 degrees north of the tropics, we also sit right in the middle of a coastline riddled with world renowned agricultural universities, thriving technology hubs and just over the hill from where pioneer farmers began the California wine industry. These outside perspectives have shaped our approach to coffee. And for those reasons we are leading the way for California in becoming a coffee growing innovation center.”

Today there are 60,000 trees planted at 64 participating farms from Gaviota to North San Diego County, with orders coming from as far afield as Japan and the U.K.

From growth to crop takes three months and Ruskey’s estate has a capacity of 1,000 pounds.

“Before 2011 high prices were around $132 a pound, but now it’s around $1,332 a pound,” says Ruskey, whose co-founders are Lindsey Mesta, Andy Mullins, and Juan Medrano. “Coffee has been reinventing itself over the centuries and it continues. This is the fifth wave of coffee. There is so much science to this, much like wine. It’s a matter of achieving the best price for our producers, but some coffees are now going for $16 a cup.”

After a dozen years of research with the Coffee Center at UC Davis after being a student in Hollywood and Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Ruskey’s premium coffee is recognized as some of the finest and most expensive coffee in the world.

He sees plenty of return on investment for the California farmer as the specialty coffee market is valued at around $125 billion and is predicted to double in the coming years.

“We offer the coffee enthusiast a refined, unmatched coffee tasting experience!” he adds.

Having tasted his product, made and poured with the precision of a fine sommelier, I can attest to that.

 

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